Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection is the premiere public presentation of a pre-eminent private collection featuring American modernist masterworks from the early twentieth century—the Collection of Barry and Maria King. Composed of more than eighty select pictures from the Kings’ collection of over one hundred, the exhibition includes major figures such as Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Man Ray, Joseph Stella, and Alfred Stieglitz. And alongside these acknowledged masters are essential American modernists who, by way of early death or other vicissitudes, have been unduly neglected in the literature—for instance, Ben Benn, Albert Bloch, Hugo Robus, H. Lyman Saÿen, and William Yarrow. Any museum would be a proud home to the King Collection, whose significance would make the institution a crucial center for the study and appreciation of twentieth-century American modernism.
Built over the past few decades, this singular collection in private hands stands as a testament to the collectors’ passion, predilections, and profound knowledge. Whilst providing a comprehensive survey of this exciting period in American art, the King Collection also evokes the particular tastes of Barry and Maria King, who favor bold compositions, vibrant colors, and subjects balanced rather consistently between landscapes on one hand and floral and fruit still lifes on the other. Coincidentally, it was under the tutelage of former El Paso Museum of Art director Leonard Sipiora (who guided the museum from 1967 to 1990) that the Kings began to collect the art of nineteenth-century America. Yet their tastes and aptitudes quickly evolved toward an overwhelming embrace of American modernist painting from the following century. The King Collection is characterized by its overall excellence and breadth, its seminal works by a range of artists, and its inclusion of hidden gems that reveal new aspects of the development of celebrated Americans such as Georgia O’Keeffe or Charles Sheeler.
In addition to introducing the King Collection to museum audiences, the EPMA exhibition and accompanying catalogue will explore major currents and themes of early twentieth-century American modernism. Issues for investigation include the rediscovery of key contributors to the evolution of American modernist painting, the role of immigrant and first-generation artists, and the primacy of the American environment. Besides painting, the show will feature a special section devoted to drawings and prints by master draftsmen of early twentieth-century America, including Lyonel Feininger and Abraham Walkowitz. Complementing the King works will be two loans from the Williams College Museum of Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which were formerly in the King Collection and exemplify the couple’s history of patronage and lending to arts institutions across the country.
Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection allows us to appreciate the discerning eye and passionate commitment of two collectors; and highlights the originality, diversity, and exuberance that fostered a distinctly American brand of visual modernism in the first half of the last century. Viewers can enjoy these qualities in powerful works that range from early to later in a given artist’s career (for example, a delicate, early Fauvist landscape by Dove next to a later pastel pointing toward the bold abstraction of his mature style); in compositions influenced by European mentors like Cézanne and Matisse (Benton’s watercolor landscape evoking both Cézanne and Gauguin); and in innovative masterworks where the Americans discovered and forged their own unique paths and sensibilities (Marin’s 1921 Trees, Rocks, and Schooner and Hartley’s 1917 Still Life with White Bowl, among many others).